Once great flocks of hornswoggles swept out from their swamp, and the rest is history. Frequently and understandably confused with the closely related, equally opportunistic red-white-and-blue tub-thumper, the hornswoggle called attention to itself with the same loud squawk and had the same habit of fouling not only its own nest but also, when given half a chance, much of the countryside from sea to shining sea. This confusion was furthered by the long-standing debate among those who devoted themselves to keeping tabs on such strange birds over whether the red-white-and-blue tub-thumper should in fact be renamed “the yellow-bellied tub-thumper, given its extensively documented habit of seeking cover at the first sign that the racket it raised might have unwelcome consequences. For whenever people grew tired of its deafening clamor and assembled to end a red-white-and-blue-aka-yellow-bellied tub-thumper’s non-stop assault on their peace of mind, it could be counted on to flap its way off to safety within the thick camouflage provided by the more lightless reaches of the swamp. Whereas the tub-thumper might be a frequent nuisance and at times posed a genuine threat, though, the hornswoggle proved itself a downright menace. Furtively swooping in and out of the same noxious gloom, often from a nest shared with a tub-thumper or two and flashing its own swollen yellow-gold belly plumage, the hornswoggle was constantly on the alert for the chance to profit from others’ vulnerability or inattention. Its raptor eyes took in any advantage to be gained, and its even sharper talons seized upon whatever the prize might be with blinding speed. The old, the sick and the weak, as well as the defenseless young, were at constant risk, of course, but not much lower in their level of danger came an array of plump targets of opportunity united only by their lack of heed to the danger posed by any hornswoggle on the hunt. Lack of vigilance against such a constant and fully predictable threat was what the hornswoggle banked on and what it never failed to profit from without mercy or remorse, almost as if deriving a cruel thrill from bringing the maximum in suffering to those whose lives it undid. Exploiting all the duplicitous tactics suited to success in a swamp, the hornswoggle came to roam hither and yon in search of easy prey. Once spotted, the target would be subjected to a mesmerizing array of artful dodges and seductive calls. Around and around the hornswoggle would circle, vulture-like, as it traced a pattern of deceit that proved so distracting many victims became convinced the coup de grâce they soon were to suffer was like manna from heaven. And in yearning for that entrancing prospect, they willingly yielded themselves up for all they were worth. Fears that the noisome duo of red-white-and-blue-aka-yellow-bellied tub-thumper and rapacious hornswoggle were here to stay became widespread as pessimism that much of anything could be done about the situation deepened with time. Red-white-and-blue-aka-yellow-bellied tub-thumpers would likely always be a problem, and thus learning to live with them while keeping their numbers under control might be the best that could be hoped for, perhaps through a combined program of breeding habitat restriction and advances in chemical hormone inhibiters where needed. Yet without a serious and sustained commitment at all levels, the hornswoggle would never be driven back into the unwholesome haunts from which it had emerged to wreak such ruin far and wide.
Copyright © 2013 by Geoffrey Grosshans